On September 6, 2007, Sprawl-Busters reported that after almost six years of trying to build a store near Marvin, North Carolina, in Union County, Wal-Mart found itself between a court and a hard place. We began this story back in August of 2002, when the Union County Board of Adjustment had granted Wal-Mart a permit to build a 206,000 s.f. supercenter at the corner of Rea and Tom Short Roads. But residents in Monroe and Union County, North Carolina challenged that permit in Superior Court. In March of 2006, the Superior Court judge ruled that the Union County Board of Adjustment had improperly awarded Wal-Mart their permit to build. The judge found that the Wal-Mart plan approved by the board had been modified significantly from the original proposal, and thus required a new approval process. The Superior Court said the board’s decision to approve the permit “was arbitrary and capricious.” But Wal-Mart kept trying to obtain by litigation what it could not get by regulation. In 2007, the case came before three judges at the North Carolina Court of Appeals. Those judges again supported the citizens, and left Wal-Mart with no supercenter. The appeals court upheld the Superior court ruling. The court’s ruling was by a 3-0 unanimous vote. “I’m thrilled,” resident Ginger Leppert told the Charlotte Observor at the time. But opponents feared that Wal-Mart would keep up their legal battle, so instead of buying champagne to celebrate, Leppert told the newspaper, “I bought two bottles of regular wine.” Wal-Mart had the option of continuing its legal fight by challenging the Court of Appeals decision with the North Carolina Supreme Court. But the Supreme Court only hears about 5% of the petitions that come before it. The other option was for Wal-Mart to start all over by filing a new request. Local residents were ready to continue the long battle over Tom Short Road. As one Union County resident wrote Sprawl-Busters, “We have only won part of the battle. Wal-Mart still owns the land and can re-apply for a special-use permit by modifying their original specifications. In addition, we currently have the minority vote amongst our local governmental officials and related judicial body that would hear any new Wal-Mart application for a special use permit.” This week, Sprawl-Busters received the following update from Union County: “We’re happy to report some good news as 2008 begins. The Appeals process for the Special Use Permit is over – and we WON!!!! The permit is fully vacated or revoked!!! The Court of Appeals did not grant Wal-Mart their petition for another hearing. After our win at the NC Court of Appeals on September 4th, Wal-Mart had 30 days to file an appeal to the NC Supreme Court. They did not file that appeal with the Supreme Court. However, we reported back in October that they took another unusual step to keep their case alive. In October Wal-Mart filed a petition for a rehearing with the Court of Appeals. They were hoping that the Court of Appeals would grant the petition and hold another argument on the case. Wal-Mart did not file a petition for appeal to the NC Supreme Court within the required time frame. What this means to us: The Special Use Permit – as originally approved by the Board of Adjustment back in Fall 2004 is totally invalid. There are no further steps for Wal-Mart to take to try to keep that permit alive. This is a significant victory for our neighborhood – and is the result of more than six long years of community efforts with a lot of help and financial support from hundreds of families. To those of you who have helped over the years – THANK YOU!!!!”
But the email from Union County makes it clear that this case is not yet closed. “A battle was won,” they wrote, “but the war isn’t over! Wal-Mart still owns the land and has the option to file a new application for another Special Use Permit and we would have to go through the entire process again. We hope it doesn’t come to that, but we can’t afford to be complacent and think this is over. It’s only over when a permit is approved for something that is appropriate to be in a residential neighborhood PUD and meets the zoning requirements.” The message ends on a political note, and on a practical note: “Mark Your Calendars: Primary Election Tuesday May 6. There will be 2 of 5 County Commissioner seats up for reelection this year and these continue to be important so we have people in office who understand our issues. While they can’t vote on a Wal-Mart, they appoint the citizens to the Board of Adjustment and Planning Board who will ultimately make the decisions on what is built on the Wal-Mart property. We’ve shown a strong turnout historically and it has helped us get attention for issues in our area. We’re going to need to show up again on May 6… We have a significant legal bill outstanding from the appeal.” Readers are urged to send a check to help these tenacious sprawl-fighters in Union County. Checks can be made out to “Parker, Poe – Account #MU320-76661,” and checks should be sent to: G. Hendry, 201 Belvedere Lane, Waxhaw, NC 28173. They deserve our support after six long years of keeping Wal-Mart in a box.